There are several things diners can depend on when they go to Mona's Cafe (3901 Banks St., 482-7743; 504 Frenchmen St., 949-4115; 4126 Magazine St., 894-9800; 3151 Calhoun St., 861-2124): they'll get their meal quickly, the food will always be fresh, they'll have plenty to eat, and the dinner check won't break them. Those are standards Karim Taha has strived for since he and business partner Nihad Momem started serving sandwiches in pita bread for lunch in 1993. Over the years, they expanded the menu to include a full range of traditional Middle Eastern dishes as well as some Mediterranean fare and a variety of items for vegetarians.

"We try to keep everything consistent: good service and low prices," says Taha. "We have a few new dishes popping up in the menu for the vegetarian lovers -- sauteed vegetables and sauteed vegetable sandwiches. We're not going to take anything out (of our regular menu); we just add in some items as customers request them."

When the Sugar Busters! diet craze hit, Mona's accommodated its weight-conscious patrons with menu items that conformed to that diet's constraints. The low-carbohydrate, high-protein Atkins diet has now become a prevalent choice among dieters, and Taha says Mona's is a natural match.

"The menu is totally Atkins compliant, except for the white pita and the rice," he says. Of course there is a whole-wheat pita alternative. The menu at Mona's, Taha says, is good for anyone who is trying to eat right.

"It is a healthy way to eat," he says. "It's traditional food of the Middle East. Š And some things, like the kebabs we share also with Turkey and Greece, the Mediterranean."

In addition to lamb, beef and chicken kebabs, Mona's also offers hummus, baba ganouj, falafel, spinach pies, labneh, tabouli, kibby, grape leaves, baklava and other classic Middle Eastern dishes.

Mona's bakes pita bread daily, which was the basis of the business when it opened as a Middle Eastern bakery in 1987, and sells pita bread to a range of restaurants, catering companies and hotels, and makes sandwiches for coffee shops around town. Mona's also offers party trays and caters meals, all made with the same fresh ingredients that are used at its four restaurants. Three of those restaurants have international grocery stores attached to them, the exception being the location on Calhoun Street.

Taha says he plans to expand the popular restaurant outside the city, starting with a Mona's opening in Lafayette in about three months.

Rediscover Mid-City By Rail The new Canal Street streetcar line has made traveling from the Mississippi River to City Park a cinch and is helping area residents rediscover the geographic heart of New Orleans: Mid-City. To help with that endeavor, the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and area businesses have published The Official Mid-City Canal Streetcar Guide, which is available free on the streetcars, at dozens of hotels and at tour and tourism information centers.

The Mid-City Canal Streetcar Guide gives a brief history of Canal Street, Mid-City and streetcars in the area as well as describing points of interest from one end of Canal Street to the other, including the Aquarium of the Americas, local cemeteries and New Orleans City Park, which the streetcar reaches after it turns off of Canal Street. The guide also includes a map of the streetcar route with all stops and attractions clearly marked and area businesses and service providers numbered and referenced on a corresponding list.

Humane Movie Expand your mind and help some abandoned animals at the same time by attending a screening of the yoga movie Ashtanga, NY at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 1, at the Prytania Theater (5339 Prytania St.). Admission is $10, and proceeds benefit the Humane Society of Louisiana.

The movie details a one-month workshop conducted by then 88-year-old master of Ashtanga yoga, Pattabhi "Guruji" Jois in New York City in September 2001 that drew students from all over the world. Despite the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 of that year and the chaos that followed, Jois continued to teach the workshop and console his students using yoga throughout the month. The movie documents the life of the Ashtanga guru and the principles he teaches as well as insights into his diverse followers. It also features interviews with celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Willem Dafoe. A question-and-answer session follows the screening.

Locally, Melanie Fawer of The Yoga Room, An Ashtanga Yoga Studio (1138 S. Carrollton Ave., 864-1999) has been a student of Jois for 10 years and is one of only eight women worldwide to be certified by him to teach Ashtanga yoga. She will be on hand to answer questions. Tickets for the May 12 showing of Ashtanga NY, which was curtailed early due to inclement weather, will be honored. For more information call Jill Ainsworth at 524-8487.

Diners (left to right) Josie Burke and Jo, Victoria and Jim Cooke enjoy a lunch of falafel, wraps and other Middle Eastern treats at Mona's Cafe on Banks Street.
  • Diners (left to right) Josie Burke and Jo, Victoria and Jim Cooke enjoy a lunch of falafel, wraps and other Middle Eastern treats at Mona's Cafe on Banks Street.

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